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MALACHI IV. 1.
Behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
THIS passage is highly alarming to people whose minds are not reconciled to God. It is an allusion to the day of judgment; but that is not the event to which it has a primary reference. The thing immediately intended, is the destruction of the Jewish nation, for their long and unparalleled wickedness, and especially for their rejecting and crucifying the Lord of glory. It was about forty years after His ascension to heaven, that the event in view took place. It was effected by the Roman army, under Titus, who acted in the matter as the instrument of an avenging Providence.
On a careful perusal of the book of Malachi, you will be convinced that that was the event the Prophet had in view, when he wrote the text on whose investigation we have entered. The desolation which was brought upon Judea and the city of Jerusalem, is memorable, and a striking emblem of the final judgment. It was such a catastrophe in itself, and an emblem of such a momentous scene, as fully justifies these strong expressions: "Behold,
the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." In respect to the destruction of the Jewish nation, Josephus writes, No other people ever suffered such calamities, and no other ever equalled them in wickedness. It was really a work of judgment, that makes the ear, in hearing of it, to tingle. The people fell beneath the Roman sword, like stubble fully dry, before the devouring flame. In consequence of that destruction, the Jews have been dispersed over the whole earth, for almost eighteen hundred years. When the Roman army appeared, the Christians who were in Jerusalem, remembered the words of Christ, fled from the devoted place, and were saved from the devouring sword. The storm fell on the proud-on the doers of wickedness-on those who, by actions or consent, had been guilty of the crucifixion of Christ. The event which has been mentioned, however, was but a faint shadow of the general judgment. On that day, the righteous shall escape, and the wicked shall be consumed. Surely, it shall burn as an oven-the wicked be as stubble -they shall be burned up—not having root or branch left. The phraseology of the text, however, is such, that some people have drawn from it the inconsistent inference, that finally impenitent sinners shall all be annihilated at the grand consummation. Considering the inference to be inadmissible, we shall endeavor to show,
I. The import of annihilation; with some of the reasons on which the advocates of the doctrine think it is supported; and,
II. Attempt to confute the scheme by Scriptural argu
We are to show,
I. The import of annihilation; with some reasons on which the advocates of the doctrine think it is supported. Annihilation, literally and properly signifies a return to that state of non-entity from which all things originally came. In that condition, there would be no more consciousness, no more joy, no more fear, no more sorrow, no more hope. If we have not an immaterial and immortal spirit, distinct from the body, but now connected with it, it will necessarily follow, that all mankind must be in a state of mental annihilation, between death and the resurrection. Whether the body returns to non-entity, or not, is a thing of no importance in relation to the present question. When once the supposed operations of its organization are suspended by death, all knowledge of existence must cease, until the dust shall be reorganized by the power of the Creator. I have an impression, that those who believe in the annihilation of the wicked, think that they shall not be raised from the dead. But whether the matter of which their bodies are composed, shall, in their opinion, be annihilated or not, I have not been able to learn. This circumstance, however, is of no importance, If thought eternally ceases to be a modification of the matter, of which they are now composed, they may be said, to all important purposes, to be annihilated. But sufficient has been said to explain the point in question; for by annihilation, they undoubtedly mean, that the wicked shall be so far put out of being, as neither to suffer nor enjoy any more. We shall, therefore, proceed in showing some
of the reasons on which the advocates of annihilation think it is supported. And,
1. It is highly probable, that a conviction of the unfitness of impenitent sinners for the 'pure enjoyments of the heavenly world, is one reason for this conclusion, Such an inference is, by no means, incorrect; for it is declared
in the Scriptures, that unsanctified people shall not inherit the kingdom of God. As to this point, the Anti-Trinitarians differ from every class of the Universaliahs. One class of that general denomination, profess to believe, that all mankind are so interested in the Atonement of Christ, that they shall ascend immediately to heaven after death. The other, however, seem to think there will be a limited punishment inflicted on obstinate sinners; and that, by enduring it, they will atone for their guilt, be purified from sin, and, in some period of eternity, be admitted to final happiness. But it is certainly more reasonable, and congenial with the declarations of Scripture, to believe, that those who die in opposition to God, shall rather be annihilated than received to heaven. We concur with them so far as to believe, that such people cannot be admitted into heaven; but that which seems to be a reason in their minds for annihilation, leads us to believe in their eternal punishment.
2. Opposition to the doctrine of endless misery, is, no doubt, another reason which leads them to the belief of annihilation. While they admit that such sinners as have been mentioned, are unfit for heaven, they seem to be unwilling to allow that they shall be sent to a place of eternal pain. They contend, that the eternal continuance of sin and misery is inconsistent with the infinite benevolence of God. This argument is more plausible than solid; it is calculated, however, to affect the feelings of men who are opposed to every thing that is contrary to a selfish inclination. But the inference from the benevolence of Deity, that all sin and sorrow shall come to an everlasting end, is rather hastily drawn. If the argument has any force in it, it militates as powerfully against the existence of these things now, as it does against their continuance. The infinite goodness of God cannot be consistently doubted;
yet these evils have existed in all ages; and we are anthentically informed, that they are to be continued, in some degree, down to the end of time. If sin and sorrow are continued through the course of seven thousand years, under the government of God, we have no ground to conclude that the eternal continuance of these evils may not be perfectly consistent with infinite wisdom and benevolence. The argument of the opposer is this, Wherefore should God make creatures, and determine that they should sin and suffer forever? But to this we may reply, Why should God make creatures, permit them to sin, and cause them to suffer in this world, and at death annihilate them to all eternity? An answer to the second difficulty, will be a complete reply to the first. It is beyond our province, to say what is or is not wisest and best for God to do with his own creatures. To contend that sinners do not deserve eternal punishment, is assuming the seat of judgment, which none but JEHOVAH has either the right or the ability to fill. If criminals were permitted to decide on the degree of punishment which they deserve, no doubt, it would be light, and of short duration. But as all şin is against God, He is the only proper judge of its demerit, and of the degree and duration of the misery which his own glory, or the general good, require to be inflicted on the guilty. The feelings of many people, no doubt, revolt at the thought of future and eternal misery; but they have not a proper sense of the Divine Honor, the evil of sin, and its tendency, unrestrained, to overturn the happiness of the universe. It is a mournful fact, that many, in judging in this case, are more influenced by their own feelings, than by reason and evidence. This lays a foundation for a multitude of wild and unsupported theories. Yes; to ward off the painful anticipation of the eternal wrath of God, men have recourse to the doctrine of universal sal